The white walls of Chelsea's Klein Sun Gallery are covered in the tongue-in-cheek social experiments of Chinese artist Li Liao, but that's not why everybody is hugging the edges of his new performative exhibition, Attacking the Boxer from Behind is Forbidden. Christophe Mendy, six feet tall and in full boxing regalia, stalks the center of the space, challenging visitors with the same fighter's gaze that earned him a spot on France's Olympic boxing team nearly 20 years ago. An imaginary ring around the man remains empty, save for the occasional challenger who enters his personal space, usually with a smile that quickly fizzles into nervous laughter, then a polite exit from that area of the floor.
Liao is known for a 2012 project called Consumption, in which he displayed a uniform, employment papers, and an iPad as relics of time spent working at an iPad factory in China—his work is all about collecting artifacts. In the case of Attacking the Boxer from Behind is Forbidden, though, the audience is the one who takes away an artifact in the form of personal experiences, memories, or Instagram pictures snapped in the gallery.
Liao's own artifacts from other works set the backdrop for the performance. One wall features a video of A Slap in Wuhan (in which he paid someone to slap him in public at a specified time, then waited without checking any clocks until it happened), another has footage from Single Bed (similar to Wuhan, Liao removed his shoes and sprawled out for a good night's rest—in the middle of the day, in a public square—and filmed the reactions), and almost half the gallery is decked with photos with transcribed tweets from his frighteningly commited Weight Loss Plan (a month-long project where he lived on the equivalent of $55 for a full month, the same sum he survived on ten years ago). Mendy's subtle, yet aggressive presence disrupts casual conversation and forces the eyes upon Liao's work—except when sneaking a glance at someone else's pitiful attempt to win the face off.
Like the rest of his work, which you can glimpse in the images below, Liao's Attacking the Boxer from Behind is Forbidden is a slice of life, an exercise in empathizing with a foreign situaltion. The life of the homeless who must sleep outside, the hungry who don't have enough to eat, an exploited factory worker, or in this case, anyone confronted with the steely-eyed gaze of someone who could crush them (and just might).
Attacking the Boxer from Behind is Forbidden opens tonight, and will be open through November 14th. See more of Li Liao's work on Artsy.